To understand the Imperial Unconscious, Tom provides the Dictionary of American Empire-Speak

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While I do not agree with everything he posts, they are always insightful and provocative.  Like this one.  An excerpt  appears below, although I suggest clicking through to read it in full.  The topic is of great importance for Americans, one which we tend to avoid.  To our peril.

The Dictionary of American Empire-Speak:  The Imperial Unconscious — “Afghan Faces, Predators, Reapers, Terrorist Stars, Roman Conquerors, Imperial Graveyards, and Other Oddities of the Truncated American Century”, By Tom Engelhardt, 1 March 2009

Excerpt {red emaphsis added}

Sometimes, it’s the everyday things, the ones that fly below the radar, that matter. Here, according to Bloomberg News, is part ofSecretary of Defense Robert Gates’s recent testimony on the Afghan War before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee:

“U.S. goals in Afghanistan must be ‘modest, realistic,’ and ‘above all, there must be an Afghan face on this war,’ Gates said. ‘The Afghan people must believe this is their war and we are there to help them. If they think we are there for our own purposes, then we will go the way of every other foreign army that has been in Afghanistan.'”

Now, in our world, a statement like this seems so obvious, so reasonable as to be beyond comment. And yet, stop a moment and think about this part of it: “there must be an Afghan face on this war.” U.S. military and civilian officials used an equivalent phrase in 2005-2006 when things were going really, really wrong in Iraq. It was then commonplace — and no less unremarked upon — for them to urgently suggest that an “Iraqi face” be put on events there.

Evidently back in vogue for a different war, the phrase is revelatory — and oddly blunt. As an image, there’s really only one way to understand it (not that anyone here stops to do so). After all, what does it mean to “put a face” on something that assumedly already has a face? In this case, it has to mean putting an Afghan mask over what we know to be the actual “face” of the Afghan War — ours — a foreign face that men like Gates recognize, quite correctly, is not the one most Afghans want to see. It’s hardly surprising that the Secretary of Defense would pick up such a phrase, part of Washington’s everyday arsenal of words and images when it comes to geopolitics, power, and war.

And yet, make no mistake, this is Empire-speak, American-style. It’s the language — behind which lies a deeper structure of argument and thought — that is essential to Washington’s vision of itself as a planet-straddling goliath. Think of that “Afghan face”/mask, in fact, as part of the flotsam and jetsam that regularly bubbles up from the American imperial unconscious.

Of course, words create realities even though such language, in all its strangeness, essentially passes unnoticed here. Largely uncommented upon, it helps normalize American practices in the world, comfortably shielding us from certain global realities; but it also has the potential to blind us to those realities, which, in perilous times, can be dangerous indeed. So let’s consider just a few entries in what might be thought of as The Dictionary of American Empire-Speak.

War Hidden in Plain Sight:

There has recently been much reporting on, and even some debate here about, the efficacy of the Obama administration’s decision to increase the intensity of CIA missile attacksfrom drone aircraft in what Washington, in a newly coined neologism reflecting a widening war, now calls “Af-Pak” — the Pashtun tribal borderlands of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Since August 2008, more than 30such missile attacks have been launched on the Pakistani side of that border against suspected al-Qaeda and Taliban targets. The pace of attacks has actually risensince Barack Obama entered the Oval Office, as have casualties from the missile strikes, as well as popular outrage in Pakistan over the attacks.

Thanks toSenator Diane Feinstein, we also know that, despite strong official Pakistani government protests, someone official in that country is doing more than looking the other way while they occur. As the Senator revealed recently, at least some of the CIA’s unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) cruising the skies over Af-Pak are evidently stationed at Pakistani bases. We learned recently as well that American Special Operations units are now regularly making forays inside Pakistan “primarily to gather intelligence”; that a unitof 70 American Special Forces advisors, a “secret task force, overseen by the United States Central Command and Special Operations Command,” is now aiding and training Pakistani Army and Frontier Corps paramilitary troops, again inside Pakistan; and that, despite (or perhaps, in part, because of) these American efforts, the influence of the Pakistani Taliban is actually expanding, even as Pakistan threatens to melt down.

Mystifyingly enough, however, this Pakistani part of the American war in Afghanistan is still referred to in major U.S. papers as a “covert war.” As news about it pours out, who it’s being hidden from is one of those questions no one bothers to ask.

On February 20th, the New York Times’Mark Mazzetti and David E. Sanger typically wrote:

“With two missile strikes over the past week, the Obama administration has expanded the covert war run by the Central Intelligence Agency inside Pakistan, attacking a militant network seeking to topple the Pakistani government… Under standard policy for covert operations, the C.I.A. strikes inside Pakistan have not been publicly acknowledged either by the Obama administration or the Bush administration.”

On February 25th, Mazzetti and Helene Cooper reportedthat new CIA head Leon Panetta essentially bragged to reporters that “the agency’s campaign against militants in Pakistan’s tribal areas was the ‘most effective weapon’ the Obama administration had to combat Al Qaeda’s top leadership… Mr. Panetta stopped short of directly acknowledging the missile strikes, but he said that ‘operational efforts’ focusing on Qaeda leaders had been successful.” Siobhan Gorman of the Wall Street Journalreported the next day that Panetta said the attacks are “probably the most effective weapon we have to try to disrupt al Qaeda right now.” She added, “Mr. Obama and National Security Adviser James Jones have strongly endorsed their use, [Panetta] said.”

Uh, covert war? These “covert” “operational efforts” have been front-page news in the Pakistani press for months, they were part of the U.S. presidential campaign debates, and they certainly can’t be a secret for the Pashtuns in those border areas who must see drone aircraft overhead relatively regularly, or experience the missiles arriving in their neighborhoods.

In the U.S., “covert war” has long been a term for wars like the U.S.-backed Contra War against the Sandinistas in Nicaragua in the 1980s, which were openly discussed, debated, and often lauded in this country. To a large extent, when aspects of these wars have actually been “covert” — that is, purposely hidden from anyone — it has been from the American public, not the enemies being warred upon. At the very least, however, such language, however threadbare, offers official Washington a kind of “plausible deniability” when it comes to thinking about what kind of an “American face” we present to the world.

Imperial Naming Practices:In our press, anonymous U.S. officials now point with pride to the increasing “precision” and “accuracy” of those drone missile attacks in taking out Taliban or al-Qaeda figures without (supposedly) taking out the tribespeople who live in the same villages or neighboring compounds. Such pieces lend our air war an almost sterile quality. They tend to emphasize the extraordinary lengths to which planners go to avoid “collateral damage.” To many Americans, it must then seem strange, even irrational, that perfectly non-fundamentalist Pakistanis should be quite so outraged about attacks aimed at the world’s worst terrorists.

On the other hand, consider for a moment the names of those drones now regularly in the skies over “Pashtunistan.” These are no less regularly published in our press to no comment at all. The most basic of the armed drones goes by the name of Predator, a moniker which might as well have come directly from those nightmarish sci-fi movies about an alien that feasts on humans. Undoubtedly, however, it was used in the way Col. Michael Steele of the 101st Airborne Division meant it when he exhorted his brigade deploying to Iraq (according to Thomas E. Ricks’ new book The Gamble) to remember: “You’re the predator.”

The Predator drone is armed with “only” two missiles. The more advanced drone, originally called the Predator B, now being deployed to the skies over Af-Pak, has been dubbed the Reaper — as in the Grim Reaper. Now, there’s only one thing such a “hunter-killer UAV” could be reaping, and you know just what that is: lives. It can be armed with up to 14 missiles (or four missiles and two 500-pound bombs), which means it packs quite a deadly wallop.

Oh, by the way, those missiles are named as well. They’re Hellfire missiles. So, if you want to consider the nature of this covert war in terms of names alone: Predators and Reapers are bringing down the fire from some satanic hell upon the peasants, fundamentalist guerrillas, and terrorists of the Af-Pak border regions.

In Washington, when the Af-Pak War is discussed, it’s in the bloodless, bureaucratic language of “global counterinsurgency” or “irregular warfare” (IW), of “soft power,” “hard power,” and “smart power.” But flying over the Pashtun wildlands is the blunt-edged face of predation and death, ready at a moment’s notice to deliver hellfire to those below.

Imperial Arguments:

Let’s pursue this just a little further. Faced with rising numbers of civilian casualties from U.S. and NATO air strikes in Afghanistan and an increasingly outraged Afghan public, American officials tend to place the blame for most sky-borne “collateral damage” squarely on the Taliban. As Joint Chiefs Chairman Michael Mullen bluntly explained recently, “[T]he enemy hides behind civilians.” Hence, so this Empire-speak argument goes, dead civilians are actually the Taliban’s doing.

U.S. military and civilian spokespeople have long accused Taliban guerrillas of using civilians as “shields,” or even of purposely luring devastating air strikes down on Afghan wedding parties to create civilian casualties and so inflame the sensibilities of rural Afghanistan. This commonplace argument has two key features: a claim that they made usdo it (kill civilians) and the implication that the Taliban fighters “hiding” among innocent villagers or wedding revelers are so many cowards, willing to put their fellow Pashtuns at risk rather than come out and fight like men — and, of course, given the firepower arrayed against them, die.

The U.S. media regularly records this argument without reflecting on it. In this country, in fact, the evil of combatants “hiding” among civilians seems so self-evident, especially given the larger evil of the Taliban and al-Qaeda, that no one thinks twice about it.

And yet like so much of Empire-speak on a one-way planet, this argument is distinctly uni-directional. What’s good for the guerrilla goose, so to speak, is inapplicable to the imperial gander. To illustrate, consider the American “pilots” flying those unmanned Predators and Reapers. We don’t know exactly where all of them are (other than not in the drones), but some are certainly at Nellis Air Force Basejust outside Las Vegas.

In other words, were the Taliban guerrillas to leave the protection of those civilians and come out into the open, there would be no enemy to fight in the usual sense, not even a predatory one. The pilot firing that Hellfire missile into some Pakistani border village or compound is, after all, using the UAV’s cameras, including by next year a new system hair-raisingly dubbed “Gorgon Stare,” to locate his target and then, via console, as in a single-shooter video game, firing the missile, possibly from many thousands of miles away. And yet nowhere in our world will you find anyone making the argument that those pilots are in “hiding” like so many cowards.

… The Taliban’s tactics are, of course, the essence of guerrilla warfare, which always involves an asymmetrical battle against more powerful armies and weaponry, and which, if successful, always depends on the ability of the guerrilla to blend into the environment, natural and human, or, as Chinese Communist leader Mao Zedong so famously put it, to “swim” in the “sea of the people.”

If you imagine your enemy simply using the villagers of Afghanistan as “shields” or “hiding” like so many cowards among them, you are speaking the language of imperial power but also blinding yourself (or the American public) to the actual realities of the war you’re fighting. …

Imperial Thought:

Recently, to justify those missile attacks in Pakistan, U.S. officials have been leaking details on the program’s “successes” to reporters. Anonymous officials have offered the “possibly wishful estimate” target=”_blank”that the CIA “covert war” has led to the deaths (or capture) of 11 of al Qaeda’s top 20 commanders, including, according to a recent Wall Street Journal report, “Abu Layth al-Libi, whom U.S. officials described as ‘a rising star’ in the group.”

“Rising star” is such an American phrase, melding as it does imagined terror hierarchies with the lingo of celebrity tabloids. In fact, one problem with Empire-speak, and imperial thought more generally, is the way it prevents imperial officials from imagining a world not in their own image. So it’s not surprising that, despite their best efforts, they regularly conjure up their enemies as a warped version of themselves — hierarchical, overly reliant on leaders, and top heavy.

In the Vietnam era, for instance, American officials spent a remarkable amount of effort sending troops to search for, and planes to bomb, the border sanctuaries of Cambodia and Laos on a fruitless hunt for COSVN (the so-called Central Office for South Vietnam), the supposed nerve center of the communist enemy, aka “the bamboo Pentagon.” Of course, it wasn’t there to be found, except in Washington’s imperial imagination.

In the Af-Pak “theater,” we may be seeing a similar phenomenon. Underpinning the CIA killer-drone program is a belief that the key to combating al-Qaeda (and possibly the Taliban) is destroying its leadership one by one. As key Pakistani officials have tried to explain, the missile attacks, which have indeed killed some al-Qaeda and Pakistani Taliban figures (as well as whoever was in their vicinity), are distinctly counterproductive. The deaths of those figures in no way compensates for the outrage, the destabilization, the radicalization that the attacks engender in the region. They may, in fact, be functionally strengthening each of those movements.

What it’s hard for Washington to grasp is this: “decapitation,” to use another American imperial term, is not a particularly effective strategy with a decentralized guerrilla or terror organization. The fact is a headless guerrilla movement is nowhere near as brainless or helpless as a headless Washington would be.

Only recently, Eric Schmitt and Jane Perlez of the New York Times reportedthat, while top U.S. officials were exhibiting optimism about the effectiveness of the missile strikes, Pakistani officials were pointing to “ominous signs of Al Qaeda’s resilience” and suggesting “that Al Qaeda was replenishing killed fighters and midlevel leaders with less experienced but more hard-core militants, who are considered more dangerous because they have fewer allegiances to local Pakistani tribes… The Pakistani intelligence assessment found that Al Qaeda had adapted to the blows to its command structure by shifting ‘to conduct decentralized operations under small but well-organized regional groups’ within Pakistan and Afghanistan.” …

Imperial Blindness

Think of the above as just a few prospective entries in The Dictionary of American Empire-Speak that will, of course, never be compiled. We’re so used to such language, so inured to it and to the thinking behind it, so used, in fact, to living on a one-way planet in which all roads lead to and from Washington, that it doesn’t seem like a language at all. It’s just part of the unexamined warp and woof of everyday life in a country that still believes it normal to garrison the planet, regularly fight wars halfway across the globe, find triumph or tragedy in the gain or loss of an air base in a country few Americans could locate on a map, and produce military manuals on counterinsurgency warfare the way a do-it-yourself furniture maker would produce instructions for constructing a cabinet from a kit.

… If The Dictionary of American Empire-Speak were ever produced, who here would buy it? Who would feel the need to check out what seems like the only reasonable and self-evident language for describing the world? How else, after all, would we operate? How else would any American in a position of authority talk in Washington or Baghdad or Islamabad or Rome?

So it undoubtedly seemed to the Romans, too. And we know what finally happened to their empire and the language that went with it. Such a language plays its role in normalizing the running of an empire. It allows officials (and in our case the media as well) not to see what would be inconvenient to the smooth functioning of such an enormous undertaking. Embedded in its words and phrases is a fierce way of thinking (even if we don’t see it that way), as well as plausible deniability. And in the good times, its uses are obvious.

On the other hand, when the normal ways of empire cease to function well, that same language can suddenly work to blind the imperial custodians — which is, after all, what the foreign policy “team” of the Obama era is — to necessary realities. At a moment when it might be important to grasp what the “American face” in the mirror actually looks like, you can’t see it.

And sometimes what you can’t bring yourself to see can, as now, hurt you.

Note: In thinking about a prospective Dictionary of American Empire-Speak, I found four websites particularly useful for keeping me up to date:

  1. Juan Cole’s invaluable Informed Comment (I don’t know how he stays at day-in, day-out, year after year);
  2. and
  3. War in Context, where editors with sharp eyes for global developments seem to be on the prowl 24/7; and last but by no means least,
  4. Noah Shachtman’s Danger Room blogat Focused on the latest military developments, from strategy and tactics to hunter-killer drones and “robo-beasts,” Danger Room is not only a must-follow site, but gives an everyday sense of the imperial bizarreness of our American world.

Finally, a deep bow of thanks to Christopher Holmes, who keeps the copyediting lights burning in Japan, and TomDispatch eternally chugging along.

About the author

Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project, runs the Nation Institute’s He is the author of The End of Victory Culture, a history of the American Age of Denial. He also edited The World According to TomDispatch: America in the New Age of Empire (Verso, 2008), a collection of some of the best pieces from his site and an alternative history of the mad Bush years.


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To read other articles about these things, see the FM reference page on the right side menu bar.  Of esp interest these days:

Posts about the American Empire:

  1. Prof Nouriel Roubini describes “The Decline of the American Empire”, 18 August 2008
  2. The foundation of America’s empire: our chain of bases around the world, 8 September 2008
  3. “A shattering moment in America’s fall from power”, 19 November 2008
  4. “End of Empire” by David Roche, 29 November 2008
  5. The transition between Imperial reigns: what will it mean for America?, 16 December 2008

Posts about the war in Afghanistan:

  1. Quote of the day: this is America’s geopolitical strategy in action, 26 February 2008
  2. Another perspective on Afghanistan, a reply to George Friedman, 27 February 2008
  3. How long will all American Presidents be War Presidents?, 21 March 2008
  4. Why are we are fighting in Afghanistan?, 9 April 2008 — A debate with Joshua Foust.
  5. We are withdrawing from Afghanistan, too (eventually), 21 April 2008
  6. Brilliant, insightful articles about the Afghanistan War, 8 June 2008
  7. The good news about COIN in Afghanistan is really bad news, 20 August 2008
  8. Pakistan warns America about their borders, and their sovereignty, 14 September 2008
  9. “Strategic Divergence: The War Against the Taliban and the War Against Al Qaeda” by George Friedman, 31 January 2009

13 thoughts on “To understand the Imperial Unconscious, Tom provides the Dictionary of American Empire-Speak”

  1. It’s funny, but while I don’t believe the US Dems can, really, make “Government more effective”, I actually do believe that a better US foreign policy can make “US imperialism more effective”.

    And it is based on yes, putting a local face on the pro-American side. In Iraq, it meant supporting those Iraqis who the local Americans felt were most supportive of democracy and/or human rights and/or most active against the terrorists. Yes, this includes anti-rights authoritarians who are anti-terrorist.

    It could even be more improved if every Iraq city which had an elected Iraqi council and wanted money for reconstruction was getting US money thru municipal bonds (with interest), but with control by the (usually corrupt) elected Iraqis.

    As America wins in Iraq, without leaving too soon, the reality will be a mostly Iraqi victory for democracy, with huge US support, but most real anti-terrorist fighting by Iraqis. Iraqi pro-terrorists being killed by Iraqi anti-terrorists, who are true Iraqi faces, not merely Iraqi masks on America.

    Yes, the US will be supporting capitalism and private property, too. And looking for Iraqis who support those ideas, along with democracy and human rights. But the lack of media attention on the increasingly successful Iraqi Democracy (brought by the US pro-human rights Imperium) is implicit recognition that democracy CAN, in fact, be imposed externally on a local people and yet create a local democracy.

    A similar process will need to be done in Afghanistan, which will be hugely more difficult:
    a) anti-democratic, anti-nationalist tribes are stronger,
    b) industrialization and urbanization is much, much weaker,
    c) no easily exported resources,
    d) except illegal drugs — pushing most emerging capitalists/ those greedy for money, to become drug criminals, and thus
    e) illegal drugs drive out any legal development; with local drug-thugs the most powerful locals (like Mexico?)

    I admit to hoping that when Pres. Obama realizes that winning in Afghanistan is so difficult with drugs illegal, that he creates a legalization of drugs program in order to save Afghanistan (and Mexico?) from drug-lord local thugocracy.

  2. It isn’t clear that the Iraqi approach will work in Afghanistan, for many reasons — most already mentioned by our host. But since Afghanistan is somewhat less accessible and more dangerous to much of the world’s media than Iraq, we may hear less about it.

    Obama’s willingness — indeed his eagerness — to dig more deeply into the Afghanistan rut suggests that his advisors on war are quite willing to engage in “hope and wishful change” just as much as his advisors on social policy.

    The nice thing about Obama’s approach is that if things get a bit dicey, all he has to do is to hire another speech writer. Image, you see, is everything.

  3. This is certainly a splendid article. Thanks for posting it!

    At first I thought it was just Orwell’s Politics and the English Language warmed up. But Engelhardt goes beyond Orwell, who is mainly concerned with euphemisms, words and phrases that disguise reality, like “rectification of frontiers” for cross-border invasions.

    Engelhardt probes the warped psychology involved in naming weapons, like Predator and Gorgon Stare, and the straight out hyprocrisy of blaming the Taliban for “hiding behind civilians” while we pilot our lethal drones from several thousand miles away.

    And this is perhaps Engelhardt’s most interesting comment:

    “when the normal ways of empire cease to function well, that same language can suddenly work to blind the imperial custodians — which is, after all, what the foreign policy “team” of the Obama era is — to necessary realities. At a moment when it might be important to grasp what the “American face” in the mirror actually looks like, you can’t see it.”

    Language designed to fool the people eventually fools the users of it as well. The best example of this is the Bush administration’s inflated rhetoric of terror after 9-11, which blinded them to the limited realities of the threat posed, and seduced them on to all the tragic folly of Iraq.

  4. “the increasingly successful Iraqi Democracy” looks pretty illusory to me. The country is defacto partitioned, and rather than having settled the political differences, we and the Iraqis have kicked them down the road. Unless we pay off the Sunnis forever, they and the Shiite central government are going to have to make a deal. The border between the Kurdish area and the rest of Iraq is not yet settled, and the status of Kirkuk remains unresolved. Four provinces of the 18 or so in the country did not participate in the last election. It seems inevitable these factions will duke it out amongst themselves, and the US has three choices: get out of the way, take a side, or try and repress them all. Which of the three is in the US interest and retains as much blood and treasure as possible?

    Bill Lind has the right idea on this, despite his 18th Century Prussian fetish. The way we play this area and Afghanistan is by defense. Minimize the interface between uncontrollable areas and state-controlled ones, make them ‘roach motels.’ Inside those areas we should have spies and conduct social engineering experiments, but not occupy those areas and not attempt to construct or sustain western-style bureaucracies. When there are terrorist camps or known concentrations, whack them, then get out and maintain the defensive posture. Eventually those places… the AfPak border on the Durand Line, for example, come out and decide to be civilized, or they are totally depopulated, or they come up with their own model that doesn’t threaten outsiders.

  5. what unconscious? Since we allowed OPEC to be established, “cheap oil” has been our foreign policy. If the invasion of Iraq had any rationale it was to sustain this policy. See no evidence by the way that we are leaving Iraq. This policy, actually a pyramid of debt, was sustainable as long as the “Soviet threat” was maintained. Hence our arming our real enemies in A. and Pakistan by Reagan, one of the really stupid acts of an American president in decades of less than intelligent work. The end of the SU meant the end of the obligation to pay our debt. What did we do? Double down. Now the fiscal system supporting and rationalizing this insane greed has collapsed — the hypocrisy of supporting the Greens by not drilling our own oil or building reactors for forty years, or building new refinery capacity is an audacious act of hypocrisy that makes Goebbels and colleagues look like amateurs– and we have no policy at all. We are now on autopilot, in the hands of the congress-military-industry conspiracy that has to be broken if we are to revive our country. Obama seems to think he can do it by stealth or he does not get it. Too early to say for sure.

  6. Ralph Hitchens

    I used to be optimistic about our role in Afghanistan, but not so much these days. In an earlier career as an intelligence analyst the Soviet-Afghan War was my “beat” and the parallels with this one are growing more pronounced. The USSR did its best to put an “Afghan face” on its own war, keeping force commitment modest and emphasizing casualty avoidance, use of airpower in lieu of boots on the ground, and toward the end a greatly expanded role for special forces (to include tailored airmobile units found nowhere else in the Soviet force structure). Nothing worked, and although we are doing many things differently it’s hard to see what’s working for us.

  7. Agree with Seneca that the most interesting aspect of TE’s article is the extent to which our language choices have enabled our own blindness. The astonishing thing about the American Empire is not that we have it, or that it involves managing the perceptions of both the U.S. population and the populations over which we rule, but the extent to which the elite classes, in believing their own propaganda, mismanaged the enterprise on an absolutely epic scale. There are few more dangerous assumptions upon which to govern an empire than to assume it’s Manifest Destiny that you’ll be #1 forever.

  8. The US empire is nothing like any previous empire on Earth. Under Dear Leader Obama the Empire will grow far weirder. Think of an FDR “New Deal” extended to the entire world. That is the type of Papa Doc that Barak wants to become. President for Life — of the entire world!

    If Reapers and Predators help get the job done, then son, that’s just how it’s gonna be!

  9. I would buy and read “The Dictionary of American Empire-Speak” if it existed but that matters not because my influence is tiny, never having pursued power, since pursuit requires many bits of relinquishment along the way.
    Briefly, here are my “bona fides” because they may matter: pilot, Viet Nam & Cambodia sanctuaries, 20 years as a military officer (plus academy), analyst for a defense think tank and various corporations within the MICC.
    All this really implies is a bit of experience and knowledge, not the typical indoctrination and discipline often related to military folks.
    My opinions are (to me) well-considered versus ideological, and do not conform to conventional correctness. Thus, some dissention has always been expected. The following simple summaries are for FM reader consideration, not their agreement or disagreement.
    Collateral damage – Whatever it is called, (fratricide, civilian damage, unintended consequences, mistakes …) it has always involved issues of shielding, avoiding, bravado, etc. that result from capabilities, objectives and organizational constraints (read expectations, limitations, negotiations).
    Unmanned vehicles – Their capabilities are improving and will continue to do so but their past performance has been quite small. Identification, a primary task, can not yet be accomplished by technology despite decades of trying. In some cases, ID is easy, but in many, it is not.
    Classification – Having had a TS clearance for a long time and some access to the black world, I wish to relate one instance of a significant audit: over 90% of the TS material seemed to be for prevention of embarrassment, not protection of vital security data.
    War – Soldiers do what they are trained to do and told to do. Most do it well. Strategy, justification and effect should always be considered before using them.
    (Yes, this is a bit over 250 words – sorry)

  10. “Unmanned vehicles – Their capabilities are improving and will continue to do so but their past performance has been quite small. Identification, a primary task, can not yet be accomplished by technology despite decades of trying.” (Mike B)

    Mike, I’ve seen footage (smuggled out by someone and briefly available on an anti-war blog) taken by a drone over a desert road in Iraq. The drone was watching two trucks, from which two human figures got out and walked hurridely to some spot about thirty yards off the road. On the soundtrack you could hear two American voices, talking casually about what they were seeing, trying to decide whether if it was enemy activity. There were long pauses, as if one or both of the voices were eating french fries while making the decision. Eventually one voice said, “ok go ahead”, and instantly one of the trucks disappeared in a flash. The two human figures scampered under the other truck, and then it disappeared to.

    That’s the kind of depersonalized (“cowardly”) killing Englehardt was referring to.

  11. Yes, Englehardt must be quite the man. He would never kill in such a cowardly way. I would dearly love to see the manly and courageous way that Englehardt kills. A gentleman, a scholar, and an oh so manly killer. Oh my.
    Fabius Maximus replies: I do not believe you understood his point. Try re-reading it more carefully. He is discussing the inconsistency of our views about these things.

  12. I take back the word “cowardly”. Bad word choice on my part. Lack of affect, of appropriate human emotion, was the point of the example. For these drone operators, the subjects they killed had no humanity. They were like figures in a video game.

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